Smart business owners embrace networking opportunities at every turn, even going "old-school" with these in-person strategies.
The average adult spends almost six hours per day interacting with digital media—watching videos, surfing the Web, and networking through social media channels like LinkedIn. For business owners, digital networking is undoubtedly a crucial aspect of making connections and finding customers.
But have you considered the opportunities you could be missing by not getting out from behind your screen enough to network in the real world? The best networking bridges the gap between online connections and real-world colleagues—and it works both ways. Use in-person meetings to strengthen relationships with people you met online, and use online interactions to stay in touch after you've met someone at an in-person networking event.
These success stories exemplify how networking can lead to big opportunities, with tips on how to forge and maintain relationships online and in the real world.
Network with a purpose
Successful networking starts with finding the right people to network with. For local business owners, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CoC) is a good place to start. Sign up for a highly-targeted CoC session or roundtable to meet like-minded business owners interested in, for instance, artificial intelligence or sustainability. Attending educational sessions eliminates some of the awkwardness of broad networking events or meet-and-greets, where dozens of business owners are left to their own devices to find common ground.
Networking may involve pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to make face-to-face connections. Make it easier by setting goals for yourself. For instance, tell yourself you want to hand out 50% of the business cards you bring, [DT1] [LMK2] and have longer conversations with at least five people, or 10% of the room.
Take online networking into the real world
You can also start your networking efforts online through local Facebook groups, and then spearhead a get-together through the Meetup website. Or browse the Canadian small business groups that are already on Meetup or NetParty, an online service that hosts events for professionals in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Stay in touch
When you meet other professionals at events, be sure to do more than just exchange business cards. Make plans to connect for a one-on-one lunch, grab coffee to continue sharing ideas or connect via web conference to further build the relationship when time is limited.
Here's where digital networking makes it even easier to stay in touch. Follow new connections on LinkedIn, send a follow-up email, and touch base every few months. Send them an email with a link to an interesting article you read, or simply share some news that reminded you of them. Don't underestimate the power of etiquette, either; congratulate people on work anniversaries or say "Happy Birthday" when you see these details pop up on LinkedIn.
Maximize every relationship
Staying in touch includes individuals you know from past jobs or even life experiences. Viewing any encounter as a potential business connection may lead to some surprising results.
For instance, Steve Hubbard and Raymundo del Cojo met through their wives, who had been friends in Mexico. When Hubbard, an Ottawa native, had a business idea that required engineering prowess, he reached out to del Cojo. The two buddies launched CampusCom, a VoIP phone company, and later, Lightenco, an LED lighting company that provides retrofit solutions for commercial applications.1
One can only speculate where the serial entrepreneurs will direct their energy next. But by putting energy into your personal network, you, too, may have a "lightbulb moment" and see opportunities you didn't previously envision.
Share ideas openly
Although you may use your American Express business card for business meals, to access airport lounges and to earn cash back rewards, the best networking relationships shouldn't feel like work. As Hubbard and del Cojo's success story shows, business relationships show up in the most unexpected places and often grow from friendships.
Fitness trainers Jade Ross and Erika French worked together at the same gym, departing the company around the same time to launch their own endeavors. Despite working in a competitive field, the two remained friends, frequently sharing ideas and advice. A few years later, they merged their companies, making Balance Fitness Health and Wellness Centre one of Nova Scotia's premier fitness centers.2
If networking doesn't come naturally to you, volunteerism could help. 63% of Canadian volunteers say volunteering improved their interpersonal and communications skills.3 With more than 12.7 million volunteers in the country4, you'll likely encounter business professionals who can help you on your path when you reach out to help others.
Embrace international travel
While networking can and often should begin at home, international expansion plans require international networking. When Meghan Dear, owner of Localize, a shelf label program in 300 stores across Canada, began planning to expand into U.S. stores, she first attended the Women's Business Enterprise National Council and then the Canadian Technology Accelerator in Boston, Massachusetts. Dear viewed the experience as a transformative opportunity that led to good contacts, market knowledge, and even a test relationship with the potential to grow into a major commercial opportunity in the states.5
And while such travel can get expensive, smart business owners can save money with travel rewards credit cards like American Express or an American Express Business Travel Account (BTA). BTA helps simplify travel expenses through centralized billing and streamlined account reconciliation. You'll also get complimentary insurance and access to American Express Global Assist® during trips booked through BTA.
Whether you're networking at home or abroad, approach relationships in a way that shows you are seeking to help others—not necessarily to close sales. Not every introduction will lead to a new customer or a business partner, but every event you attend can help widen your circle of contacts to increase your possibilities for business growth.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue. It should not be regarded as comprehensive or a substitute for professional advice.